XI Agricultural Science Congress
Agricultural Education : Shaping India’s Future
Prof. R.B. Singh
As President of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), it is my privilege and great honour to welcome our Chief Guest, His Excellency the Governor of Odisha, who is a great educationist and an embodiment of humanity, benevolence, progress and peace. I also welcome Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Resource Development, Govt. of Odisha, who has so ably been leading his Ministry for the improved livelihood security of the people of Odisha.
We are beholden to our Guests of Honour Prof. S. Ayyappan, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research Education (DARE) and Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Dr. Mangala Rai, Past President, NAAS and former Secretary DARE and DG, ICAR, and Dr. Simeon Ehui, Sector Manager, World Bank – the thought leaders in agricultural transformation.
A very warm welcome is due to the galaxy of distinguished agricultural educationists, Vice Chancellors, scientists, researchers, innovators, policy makers and thinkers from India and abroad who have gathered here in Bhubaneswar to participate in the Congress, and deliberate together to write a new chapter in India’s march to develop and institutionalise a dynamic, effective and efficient agricultural education and agricultural research-education-extension integrated system for accelerated, inclusive and sustainable agricultural transformation as it shapes India’s future.
This XI Agricultural Science Congress, with its theme “Agricultural Education : Shaping India’s Future”, is different from all the past Congresses.
Firstly, it has turned out to be a truly international Congress. Besides the eminent presence of leading Indian agricultural educationists and researchers, we are blessed with the distinguished participation of world leaders in this field from Brazil, China, France, Japan, the Netherlands and United States of America (USA), and from international organizations such as World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Global Forum of Agricultural Research (GFAR), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Bioversity of the CGIAR, Global Confederation of Higher
Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA), and from one of the greatest friends of humanity – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Permit me to recognise the deep commitment, support and guidance of Dr. Uma Lele, Independent Scholar, Ex-World Bank and a global agricultural research, education and extension leader, and Dr. Madhur Gautam, Lead Economist, World Bank, the young brilliant protagonist of high value support to agricultural education, research and innovation in the service of humankind.
Secondly, for the first time in the 23 years of the most gratifying journey of the Academy, this Congress is comprehensively addressing the most vital issue of strengthening and transforming agricultural education and human resources development as well as the agricultural research-education-extension synergies for development (AREE4D) in a dynamic and mutually reinforcing mode. It is hoped that the Congress will come up with concrete recommendations and possible solutions towards transforming our AREE4D system.
Thirdly, the Congress has been designed to share outstanding global experiences, lessons and challenges to help India prepare the necessary roadmap for achieving the desired agricultural transformation especially the desired human capital, for putting Indian agriculture at a higher pedestal and trajectory to achieve accelerated, inclusive and sustainable development. More than half of the world, not only in terms of population, but also in terms of diversity, excellence and success is represented here which provides unique opportunity for synergistic alliances.
Fourthly, and finally, the experiences shared should enable us to identify major issues which could help India articulate a new partnership for our mutual development as well as to provide a platform to integrate our efforts to evolve innovative national and global development agenda. The effort will not only help ourselves but would also provide support to selected needy countries.
We are meeting here in Bhubaneswar, the Golden Triangle of temples and the heritage city of art, culture, architecture, mathematics and sculpture. Odisha is famous not only for its archaeological monuments but is also the primary centre of biodiversity of rice – the foremost food crop of the world and is known for its innovative, hard-working and resilient farmers.
Our kind host, the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), established in 1962, is one of the first phase pioneering Land Grant Universities of India. We are extremely grateful to the Vice-Chancellor and Dr. D.P. Ray, Convenor of the Congress and former Vice-Chancellor of this University for their formidable support and guidance. Greater Bhubaneswar is host also to some of the pioneering ICAR institutes, especially the world famous Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture, Directorate of Water Management and Directorate of Research on Women in Agriculture, and some other leading educational and research institutes.
State of Indian Agriculture : Where are We Today
Science- and technology-led Green, White and Blue Revolutions have greatly transformed Indian agricultural production and agrarian economy. Between 1951 and 2011, foodgrain production increased 5-fold, from 51 to 257 million tonnes; milk production swelled 8 fold, from 17 to 127 million tonnes (rendering India the top milk producer in the world), and fish production jumped 11fold from 0.75 to 8.40 million tonnes, primarily due to accelerated growth in aquaculture production.
These unprecedented production gains, coupled with efficacious policies and actions, had resulted in more than halving the percentages of hungry, under-nourished and ultra-poor. An orchestra of the technological breakthroughs, political will, services, suitable input support, appropriate pricing policies and, above all, farmers’ enthusiasm had resulted in the Revolutions and transformed India from a ship-to-mouth situation in the 1960s to the Food Bill i.e. Right to Food (based on home-grown food).
The Green Revolution has, however, almost waned. During the last decade or so, while the overall national gross domestic product (GDP) had registered a high growth rate of about 8%, the agricultural growth had gone sluggish, hovering around only 1.5 to 2% (although recovered lately) and the total factor productivity growth remained stagnant or even declined. Consequently, the income gap between farmers and non-farmers had further widened to 1:7. Despite several social protection floors, inequalities as well as inequities have multiplied and are proving serious deterrents to inclusive growth. As proven “high initial levels of inequality limit the effectiveness of growth in reducing poverty, while increasing inequality reduces the impact of growth on poverty for any given level of growth”.
Unethical as it is, the country is still home to almost one-fourth of the world’s hungry and poor. Over 40 percent of world’s hungry children are our own children. It is estimated that the entrenched high undernutrition in the country annually costs about 3 percent of the national GDP.
In terms of poverty reduction, in India, the share of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped from 59.8 per cent in 1981 to 51.3 per cent in 1990 and to 37.4 per cent in 2008. During the same period in China, poverty percentage which was as high as 84% in 1981 fell sharply to 13% in 2008. As regards percentage undernutrition, in India it had climbed down from about 26% in 1990-92 to 18% in 2010-2012. In China during the same period, the prevalence of undernutrition fell down from 21% to 12%. As regards Global Hunger Index (GHI), in India it stubbornly stands at around 24% - a critical level, against about 5% both in Brazil and China, an acceptable level. India is thus off-track in achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG)-1 – halving percentages of hunger and poverty.
As regards R&D investments, IFPRI studies have shown that in 2008 China spent $1457 million against $707 million by India. The expected investment in 2025 in China was $ 6102 million and in India $ 2367 million. At the productivity growth rate of 1% during 2008-2025 in India compared to 1.38% in China, the increased investment in India is projected to shed off 100 million from the list of 569 million poor in 2008. The analogous reduction in China is expected to be 42 million from 208 million in 2008. The rate of return on investment in R&D, as compared to that in other sectors, was the highest both in India (13.8) and China (6.8). The R&D investments have thus substantially reduced rural poverty, which when complemented with investments in rural infrastructures especially road, education and health have high payoffs. Policy implications of these findings are to prioritise spending in agricultural R&D coupled with those in rural infrastructure and education.
The Indian enigma of the coexistence of high economic growth and the entrenched high prevalence of hunger and poverty and veritable asymmetries can be attributed substantially to the neglect of agriculture in an agriculturally important country. Promoting manufacturing and services sectors at the cost of agriculture sector has not paid the dividends to the majority rural people. In this context, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen had recently observed “I do not think there’s enough clarity on economics here. I do not judge the performance of the Indian economy by growth alone….. And the fact is that human capability expansion is also very critical for economic growth”.
The Future We Want
The theme of this Congress, “Agricultural Education: Shaping India’s Future, reflects the dream and determination of every generation of Indians, particularly Indian agricultural educationists and scientists to have a prosperous, ever-progressing and happy India. An India free from hunger, acute poverty, deprivation and undernutrition. It wishes to have a comprehensive and congruent economic, social and environmental security.
The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, June 2012 declared a broad framework of “The Future We Want”. The declaration envisions:
Building a Green Economy to achieve sustainable development and to lift people out of poverty,
Providing support for developing countries to enable them to find a green path for development, and
Improving international coordination for sustainable development by building an institutional framework.
The heads of State of the 192 governments, in attendance at the summit, reiterated commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations. It agreed to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth that take environmental and social factors into account in an effort to access and pay for ‘environmental services’ provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection and called on countries to develop and implement science based management plans. While India fully adopts this Declaration, it must ensure that there will be little trade-off between the Green Economy approach and the food, energy and livelihood security approach, instead their synergies should be optimised.
The future we want is an agriculture that is parallel, along with the services and industrial sectors, in contributing to India’s economic development and growth. There are a few states in India that have shown growth rates in agricultural GDP of over 10 per cent for a decade or more showing the potential that agriculture has in economic development. And with agricultural development, rural areas prosper more and this leads to significant reduction in extreme poverty and greater equity in prosperity unlike that from development of industry and the service sector.
Why the urgency to transform?
Towards shaping India to achieve the future we want, it must be realized that we cannot think of a world without a thriving, multifunctional and comprehensive agriculture. If agriculture fails, nothing else will succeed. Then why the neglect. I am sure, all, including farmers, students of agriculture, scientists, researchers, the academia, policy makers and politicians agree with this fact and shall not only save but also enrich agriculture to render this world still more beautiful. The hungry child cannot wait. His brain and bones are being formed today. We cannot name him Tomorrow. His/her name is today.
The Planet Earth is already under stress. Of the nine interconnected planetary boundaries with defined tipping points in the Earth system, three of them, namely, climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen cycle have been crossed. Climate change is already the most destabilising factor. The challenge is to produce more and more from less and less and under more difficult and complex environmental, carbon and GHG imbalances and worsening socio-economic inequities and inequalities. As agriculture impacts climate change and gets impacted by it, the enterprise is increasingly obliged to mitigate its own GHG emissions.
The world is changing fast. The high population and income growths are continuously pushing up the demand for food particularly high value quality foods. As we sit down for dinner tonight we would have additional 40,000 guests at the Indian dinner table, out of the 200,000 fresh arrivals in the world as a whole. The demand for energy is likewise multiplying and renewable sources of energy will be increasingly utilised and put under increasing pressure. On the other hand, the total factor productivity is declining and natural and other production resources are further shrinking.
Excellency and Fellow Scientists!
The urgency for change thus can hardly be over-emphasized. Agricultural education, research and extension institutions are therefore increasingly challenged to transform to produce newer technologies, create comprehensive knowledge pool and strengthen trained, skilled and retooled human resources to meet the challenges and new opportunities unleashed by technological revolutions and the fast changing world.
India is falling behind in the international competitiveness. None of India’s Universities, IITs and IIMs figure in the top 200 universities in the world. In the global research contributions, India’s share is only 4% against 18% of China. These two revealations are not unrelated. High ranking universities are generally research intensive and comprehensive – including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, medicine and management. India has generally failed to develop comprehensive teaching-research or research-teaching universities. We are already facing the challenges of making our economic development more rapid, competitive, sustainable, resilient, inclusive and gender sensitive and more knowledge based. And it is for this that India needs a New Agriculture backed by good science and Best of Practices.
We must ask ourselves the following questions as we move forward to transform our agriculture towards reshaping India:
Is today’s agricultural leadership ready to address the complex demands put on agriculture?
Is our agricultural education system prepared to produce such leaders?
Do we have navigators who would navigate us through the changing water?
Do the staff and students have real-world experience as part of learning?
How relevant are the existing teaching programmes and institutions?
Do we have the necessary resources, commitment and political will to meet the challenges?
The State of Agricultural Education and Its Integration with Research and Extension
SAUs were truly research and innovation universities to begin with, as being currently advocated, and were a critical element of the Indian REE system with a mandate to perform not only the role of providing higher education, but also important roles in research, particularly adaptive research, and extension and the Green Revolution process. But for these universities there would have not been any Green Revolution or “Human Capacity Revolution”.
India inherited a few agricultural and veterinary colleges scattered across the country in 1947. Great statesman such as (Bharat Ratna President) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan headed the Indian University Education Commission and his report, submitted in 1949, had envisioned rural universities that would usher the generation and use of new knowledge, skills and technology needed to develop India, a largely rural country then. With support from the United States of America, and based on the blueprint of an agricultural university prepared by Dean H.W. Hannah of the University of Illinois, India in the 1960s developed several State Agricultural Universities modeled on the U.S. Land Grants Universities and focused only on agriculture. The first in the series was the agricultural university Pantnagar established in 1960, today famous as the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT).
Presently, there are 56 State Agricultural Universities, five Deemed Universities (four of them are constituent institutes of ICAR), four Central Universities with strong Agriculture Faculty and, one Central Agricultural University for the States of North-eastern region. Agricultural universities set up in India initially were multi faculty mono-campus universities. With time, most of them have become multi-campus. Eighteen universities have become single discipline universities (Animal and Veterinary Sciences 12, Fishery Science 2 and Horticulture and Forestry. About 40,000 students are currently admitted annually with an outturn of 24,000 graduates, postgraduates and doctorates in agriculture and allied sciences.
All countries participating in the Congress have a long and notable history of success in agricultural technology as a major driver of growth in productivity with contributions from all three aspects of REE. The Land Grant Universities in USA, have transformed from the agricultural land-based research and resources to research parks growing primarily technology, innovation and business towers of innumerable companies and not only corn and cows. Think of the students, teachers and researchers sharing these parks comprising industry leaders and being mutually exposed to the real-world situations. Our SAUs, several celebrating their 50th anniversary, Golden Jubilee, on the other hand have lost even on the cows and corn fronts. Instead of consolidation, there is lot of splitting.
In the Netherlands, Wageningen University, underwent a significant reorientation in the 1990s to renew its focus on “healthy food and living environment” in a rapidly changing environmental, financial and physical landscape and has now established a Third Generation University. Brazil and China have undertaken periodic reforms in the different elements of their AREE4D system to reinvent them and reorient them to become more relevant and effective in meeting the growing and changing challenges facing the countries.
As mentioned earlier, University of Illinois, USA had helped establish the first LGU in India, namely, Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT) in 1960. Notwithstanding the externalities, a brief description in terms of planning, execution, and outcomes of the two universities will give a comparative picture of their ability to internalize the interconnected community-state-national progress in their development agendas, thrust on quality of students and faculty, partnership between university and industry, magnitude and quality of investment and emphasis on hands-on training of students and faculty, and the impact these interventions have made in achievements of the two institutions.
University of Illinois, a Land Grant University, established in 1867 with its charter “Learning and Labor”, campuses at Urbana, Chicago and Springfield has remained as incubator of progress for the past 150 years. “Innovation born on our campuses is ingrained in our daily lives. Our graduates more than 19000 every year emerge as leader who guide our nations unending push for even better tomorrow. As we build for the future, our world-class academic and research programs also support prosperity today, pumping $13 billion into the Illinois economy every year and creating more than 150,000 jobs” (Robert A. Easter, President UI, 2012). The University measures its progress by quantifying millions pumped in the state economy and in number of jobs created. It has rich legacy of excellence in teaching, research and service in the field of agriculture, medicine and humanities, houses Nobel Laureates and its faculties have high citation indices. Its annual budget is US$ 5.1 billion for the 3 campuses.
High ranking of the university and prestigious national/state level fellowships offered by the university help attract bright students, especially in basic sciences. Its new paradigm of offering online degree and certificate programmes is a huge success, even internationally. Embracing public-private partnership, research is the main forte of the University, a leading research university becoming also a leading teaching university and developer of leading human resources. Its public-private partnership (PPP) initiative gives industry needed new products and technologies to grow. In turn, the Industry funds University to retain top faculties and support their researches and attract best students. It has established strong centres of multidisciplinary researches for sustainable development.
Promoting foresight research and education, the university has established a centre for partnership for food, nutrition, health and livelihood security. The centre is exploring impact of nutrition on brain development, learning and cognitive abilities and nutrition and neuroscience interaction supported by genomic biology. The Energy Bioscience Institute funded by industry giants is researching to produce carbon neutral fuels moving beyond corn-based enthanol to develop biofuels that protect both the environment and the world’s food supply, as well as on-farm income. Still more, an Innovation Centre to serve industry, education and research, functioning for the past ten years, is proving a breeding ground for progress and young minds and unites corporate leaders with students and faculty. Together they cultivate new products and services that provide real-world solutions for businesses of today and real-world experience for students who will become the industry leaders tomorrow.
GBPUAT, established in 1960, was the first SAU based on the Land Grant University pattern, emphasizing integration of research-education-extension. Within a few years of its establishment, it emerged as the leading and a model Land Grant University in India. The land granted to it not only provided it excellent experimental farms but also huge seed farms which evolved into the famous Tarai Development Corporation – a major seed centre in the country. The University attracted bright students and faculty from throughout the country. Several of its students and faculty members occupied top national and international research, education and development positions and the HYVs developed by the University occupied millions of ha and contributed immensely to the national food security.
Yet, several of the original Plans remain unimplemented. The half-Circle at GBPUAT is still empty. Worst, the original half circle which houses the foundation pillars of the University and was once the most vibrant and “green” part of the campus, is today not as bright and green as expected. Instead, the basic and social sciences and humanities components have shrunk and overall there is some erosion of the academic capital. This trend should not only be stopped and reversed, but the ever-empty half circle should be judiciously filled with medical sciences, engineering, human sciences and other new and emerging sciences and with incubators.
Today the SAUs are not the same. The widespread perception is that “the journey of higher agricultural education got interrupted”. With the passage of time and fading away of the original collaboration, enthusiasm, necessary support and priority, the SAUs generally slipped back to the business as usual. Among other things, the intensity for comprehensiveness declined, the characteristic research-education-extension synergy loosened and academic inbreeding depression had set-in. Consequently, educational standard, faculty quality and research and extension outcomes have declined. Several of the grand designs and plans were abandoned and forgotten. It is hard to imagine that one of the frontline agricultural universities like GBPUAT will be without a regular Vice-Chancellor for the last almost seven months.
The main reasons for decline of SAUs are : thoughtless splitting of Universities, declining investment and funding crunch, inbreeding, poor governance, non-implementation of quality and accreditation norms, lack of autonomy, lack of man power in the frontier areas of science and technology, inadequate hands-on skill/experience for the multiple disciplines within the profession, depleted faculty strength, inadequate and poor quality of private sector participation, lack of modern teaching and other facilities and infrastructures, declining quality of students and faculty, weak teaching-learning process, outdated curricula and poor coordination between central and state governments and lack of central regulatory authority.
A fundamental shortcoming of the Universities is that their grants requests are mostly for constructing buildings (bricks and mortar) and permanent structures and very little for “softer” components i.e. research, teaching and training, equipment, talent development and academic activities. About 90% of the recurring grants are exhausted in meeting salaries and hardly 10% for operational purposes. Teachers, scientists and technicians salaries have improved considerably but that is not reflected in the increased responsibility, outcome and accountability. Generally, there is initiative, commitment and attitude deficit, and “comfort with mediocrity” has become the trend.
In addition, the agricultural education system in the country will face a serious gap between the demand (2020) and the current supply of trained human resources and would have to more than double the number of graduates produced to meet the projected demand. Against 24,000 graduates produced in 2010, the projected requirement is 54,000 in 2020.
The ICAR has been making efforts during the past several years and has taken actions to address many of the above shortcomings. These include: curriculum revision: transition towards students Rural Entrepreneurship and Awareness Development Yojana (READY), attracting talents to agricultural education, faculty competence improvement, addressing-encompassing Experiential Learning Programme (ELP). Rural Agricultural Work Experience (RAWE) and in-plant/industrial attachment, faculty shortage, reducing inbreeding and promoting national integration, linkages among institutions and partnership, promoting education in basic and emerging sciences, regulation of agricultural education, centres of excellence, international agriculture, modernization of AU farms, manpower planning, enhanced financial support, strengthening education for agricultural extension and rural development, public-private partnership for innovations in agricultural education and research, vocational education, IT for networking, e-courses and distance education, and national agricultural education project.
The Council has stepped up efforts to attract talented students and young faculty, such as the Agricultural Science Pursuit for Inspired Research Excellence (ASPIRE) programme. Alongwith READY, Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture (ARYA) programme, is most timely, and could mutually reinforce the Farmer First campaign of ICAR. These various initiatives should be congrued and regularly monitored for their implementation and impact assessment.
Excellency and Hon’ble Minister!
Agriculture and agricultural education research and extension are State subjects and the action lies with States. There are wide variations in State performances in terms of academic standards, investments in AREE, research and technology outcomes, overall performance of agriculture and agrarian livelihood. Generally, the SAUs are competing for fragmentation – a destructive mode while their faculty and financial resources have been shrinking. The situation is further aggravated by the mushrooming of private colleges exclusively as business propositions with little concern for quality.
Comparing the status of agricultural development in some of the fast growing developing economies and the current India’s agrarian economy and the role and performance of LGUs, the prevailing unsatisfactory performance of agricultural education system in India may be ascribed to the followings:
Huge implementation gap and the lack of judicious monitoring, evaluation and accountability system,
Inadequate and inconsistent funding of and investment in agriculture, especially of education, research and extension,
The increasing inequities and inequalities and their huge negative effect on overall growth; we have ignored these gaps for too long and have thus been ditching progress,
Increasing indifference to the decline in the standard and quality of agricultural education, resulting in erosion of human capital and sub-optimal outcomes from research, technology and innovation, and
The lack of political will and of commitment at various levels-national, provincial, institutional and individual (teacher/scientists/student).